You might well ask. NOBODY in the 21st Century, bar a handful of dedicated collectors of the arcane, has ever seen these extraordinary treasures – until now. They are, as the title of our book suggests, Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell. And the closest word in the English language we have to describe them is ‘DEVILMENTS’. Created in France by a small band of artistic geniuses, they started a huge craze in France and England in Victorian times – from about 1860 until the turn of the century. Over 150 years later, they are now making a return appearance, in our fiendishly stereoscopically enabled book – DIABLERIES.
I had my first demonic experience early one icy Saturday morning in Portobello Road Market around 1969. I was hoping, as always, that I’d get lucky and find a stereo viewer or some stereo cards. Among a pile of cards for sale by one street trader, I spied something which would trigger a lifetime’s fascination – a French tissue card, depicting lifelike skeletons, devils, ghouls and even Satan himself, in a place where they seemed to be raising the roof. The two quite similar images printed side by side on a stereo card always look quite flat, unless you can ‘free-view’ them to make the 3-D magic happen – or you have a suitable Stereoscope at hand, to view the card in 3-D. I acquired the habit of free-viewing as a kid, collecting 3-D Vistascreen cards from Weetabix packets, so I was instantly able to see the skeletal inmates of this parallel universe in glorious solid relief – it was as if I could reach through the stereo window and touch them.
That’s the experience that, for over 40 years, I’ve dreamed of sharing with the modern world. It’s not been easy. Diablerie cards are hard to find, and, being tissues, by their very nature very delicate, so even if one is lucky enough to find them, they’re almost always in bad condition. I’ve personally spent thousands of hours digitally restoring them for our book; and, using my unique OWL stereo viewer (moulded in Sunbury-upon Thames and supplied with the book), they can be enjoyed in glorious 3-D just the way they were intended. My co-author Denis Pellerin, the world’s leading expert on the history of stereo photography in France, has for the very first time discovered the hidden meanings of these scenes, and what is revealed in this book about France under Napoleon III is funny, dangerous, and at times quite shocking.
We’ve all seen the splendid 3-D of Avatar – but this is 3-D the way Victorians knew it … still the most perfect way to experience the phenomenon, and when I hear the first ‘Wow!” as people suddenly see the images in our book in 3-D, I know we achieved our mission: the old devilish magic still works!